Veterinary Specialists: Surgeons

by Nancy Kay, DVM 

The chance to cut is the chance to cure. This is a classic line out of the mouths of veterinary surgeons who relish their time spent in the operating room, donned in surgical garb and cutting to the beat of their favorite music.

During their residency training programs, surgical specialists learn about surgery on every conceivable body part. 

They must feel comfortable whether fixing a broken bone, removing a lung lobe, or repairing a torn loop of intestine. Following residency training some surgeons go on to subspecialize (orthopedics, soft tissue, cancer surgery, joint replacements, organ transplantation), but most are willing and able to cut whatever comes their way. Surgeons tend to be the “go to docs” for difficult to diagnose lameness issues or gait abnormalities, whether or not surgery is needed to fix the problem.

When should your dog be evaluated by a board certified veterinary surgeon? 

Here are some suggestions:
  • A surgical procedure has been recommended for your dog and you would like a second opinion.
  • Your dog is in need of a complicated or major surgical procedure. Consider working with a doc who performs this particular surgery multiple times a year rather than only once every few years. Additionally, when working with a surgical specialist, your dog will more likely have access to state of the art anesthetic monitoring along with post-operative round-the-clock attention and pain management.
  • Your family vet has recommended surgical removal of a tumor. Surgical specialists tend to be far more aggressive when it comes to removing cancerous growths and this is exactly what you should want for your dog. Far better to remove the tumor in its entirety the first time around rather than subjecting your dog or cat to a second surgery when the biopsy report reveals “dirty margins”.
  • Your dog has a lameness issue or gait abnormality that isn’t getting better or is getting worse despite multiple visits with your family vet.
  • The breed you fancy is prone to orthopedic issues. For example, most large breed dogs are predisposed to hip dysplasia. A visit with a veterinary surgeon will allow you to preemptively learn more about this problem as well as any preventive measures you can take at home.

To find a board certified veterinary surgeon where you live or to learn more about this specialty, visit the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Has your dog ever been evaluated by a surgical specialist? What was the reason and what was the outcome?


Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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Articles by Dr. Kay:
Reasonable Expectations: The Ability to Discuss Your Internet Research With Your Vet
Finding Dr. Wonderful And Your Mutt's Mayo Clinic: Getting Started
Even The Best Veterinarian Can Make A Mistake
A Different Way to Spay
Making Tough Medical Decisions For Your Dog: Lily's Story
If You Don't Know What A Lick Granuloma Is, Count Your Blessings!
Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleaning 
Talking Teeth 
Urinary Accidents
I Can't Believe He Ate That! Foreign Body Ingestion 
What Caused Murphy's And Ruska'sPneumothorax?
The Whole Picture: When The Test Results Don't Match What's In Front Of You 
Stop that Scratching
Veterinarians And Vaccines: A Slow Learning Curve
What is a Veterinary Specialist? 
Veterinary Specialists: Oncologist 
Veterinary Specialists: Cardiologist 
Veterinary Specialists: Internist 
Veterinary Specialists: Neurologist